Papillon Blu-ray Review
Halfway through PAPILLON, there was this inescapable feeling that I had watched a movie like this before. The astute reader, or weathered cinema fan, will suspect that my familiarity with this film comes from watching the 1973 film with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman at some point in my life. Unfortunately for some, this remake is my first time with the story of PAPILLON, a real-life French convict whose escapades made him a celebrity for a brief moment in time.
Papillon, real name Henri Charriere (Hunnam), is framed for murder in 1933. His punishment sends him to the Devil’s Island in French Guiana, a hellacious prison notorious for its cruelty and its inescapable nature. The terrain around it is inhospitable and the ocean waters that surround appear vast and endless. Regardless of the torment, daily attacks by other prisoners, years of solitary confinement, and the impossibility of escape, Papillon remains hopeful. He befriends Louis Dega (Rami Malek) and the two make a pact to escape at no cost.
Towards the third act, PAPILLON finally clicked a reminder off in my head as to why it was so familiar. Hunnam, who has yet to escape the shadow of SONS OF ANARCHY, was in THE LOST CITY OF Z last year, a blu-ray I reviewed for this site. Both of these films are meant to be viewed as sweeping epic classics, like BEN-HUR or LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, with tales about men braving the unimaginable and fighting to the bitter end for something they believe in. However, one of those is strides better.
PAPILLON looks epic, but never feels epic. It’s nothing to do with the acting, but more of the story’s pacing and fangless narrative. Henri’s trip to the prison feels more harrowing rather than the time inside the prison. While on a boat towards his fate, a fellow prisoner next to him is stabbed to death at night for money that he swallowed. As you would guess, the other prisoners gutted him for that cash and dig into his inside. The film never quite keeps that initial tenacity intact. It almost makes you wonder if the movie should have saved that kind of scene for halfway through as a point of realization for our characters that it’s time to escape.
The claustrophobic nature of solitary, the paranoia of what your fellow prisoners could do and the hopelessness racing through Henri’s head seem to be missing throughout most of the film’s runtime. It’s there in drips, but not in it enough to keep the story from becoming mundane. At some points, you wish that he would finally escape just so the movie could end, especially because it balloons to over two hours long.
Visually and acting wise, there’s a lot to like about PAPILLON. Director Michael Noir is considered to be a talented director, and while it’s clear in the film’s aesthetics, it’s not so much recognizable in the film’s story. You could put that kind of blame on screenwriter, Aaron Guzikowski, who wrote PRISONERS. While both have been championed for their talent, maybe they just weren’t the right combo or didn’t see eye-to-eye on some creative levels. PAPILLON is gorgeous to look at and may inspire some, but overall it’s lacking impact and excitement, something a prison escape film needs.
Video: (1080p HD Widescreen 2:39:1) This film looks beautiful up and down. Every scene feels meticulously crafted and it comes through wonderfully on this blu-ray.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) There’s nothing wrong with the audio or it’s lossless soundtrack.
Deleted Scenes (30:44): There are 13 deleted scenes, culminating in a half hour of deleted content. All I can say is, thank God. I may have actually hated this movie and not forgiven some of its better qualities if the overall film was 30 minutes longer. That being said, some of these are extended scenes or had elements of the scenes thrown into the movie. So for those who really liked this movie, this collection of scenes might actually interest them.